Simple Sides: Italian 101
By Dennis Linden
Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.
Here’s an easy introductory recipe that is perfect for a beginner in the kitchen, which uses two of Melissa’s ready-to-eat steamed veggies to make a classic dish of the Mediterranean. “Frittella” is a dish traditionally served in Sicily during mid-spring when the key ingredients, artichokes and fava beans, are harvested. Melissa’s Steamed Artichoke Hearts and Peeled & Steamed Fava Beans make this dish possible year-round and does all the heavy-lifting of these two tedious-to-prep veggies. Both products are great for a young novice cook when keeping the prep time to a minimum with tasks that are not tiresome will ensure young minds do not wander far from the cutting board. Keep tasks short and the prep moving along to keep your kitchen helper engaged.
If your sous chef is old enough to practice his or her knife skills under supervision, there is some very basic chopping required of both garlic cloves and parsley, which are the only other ingredients in this dish. If your helper is too young for a sharp blade, these tasks can also be accomplished safely using a pair of dull kitchen shears. In fact, for a younger assistant ignore the need for a “fine” chop of the garlic in this recipe; it certainly is not as critical as participating in the prep at any level of skill set. If an enthusiasm for cooking is instilled early, there will be years of kitchen hours ahead to perfect the art of slicing and dicing! Use Melissa’s Fresh Peeled Garlic for convenience without sacrificing freshness and to avoid tedium in your assistant as was already mentioned.
While the two main ingredients of this dish have been pre-steamed, this recipes still requires a little time on the stovetop to warm everything us as well as cook all the flavors together. Technically, since most of the ingredients are ready-to-eat, one could probably get away with mixing everything together in a big microwave-safe bowl and then zapping the mixture for a few minutes! While this would certainly get the family meal on the table faster, it would also rob every one of the fun of working together to construct this dish.
So slow it all down with this simple three-step stovetop procedure that will give any young helper that first taste of culinary confidence as he or she learns how to follow a recipe, layering in flavors in an order, with a bit of cooking time in-between. It’s a big deal for a child to graduate from sitting at the table waiting to be served to standing at a stove, even if that means standing on a sturdy chair, involved in the preparation of the family meal. Closely supervised at all times, of course, but a whole lot more fun than setting a timer and pushing a button!
Artichokes & Fava Beans
Yield: Serves 4
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 packages Melissa’s Steamed Artichokes
½ cup Chicken Stock
Salt & Pepper, to taste
2 gloves Garlic, finely chopped
3 packages Melissa’s Peeled & Steam Fava Beans
½ cup Fresh Italian Parsley, chopped
What the kids can do:
Chop garlic and parsley.
Warm the olive oil in a sauté pan, then add the artichokes, turning them to coat them well with the oil. Add the broth and garlic, season with the salt and pepper and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.
Add the fava beans, and cook on low heat for another 5 minutes.
Plating: Just before serving, add the parsley to the pan, mix well and serve warm. This dish could also be served chilled with a sprinkle of lemon juice.